North Andover, Mass. – The Merrimack football team downed the visiting Stonehill Skyhawks by the score of 43-30 in front of 3,113 fans at Martone-Mejail Field. The win improves Merrimack's record to 5-2 (4-1 NE-10) and Stonehill falls to 2-5 (1-4 NE-10).
"We put together a much better effort this afternoon," said head coach John Perry. "Offensively after halftime we came out and scored some quick points to put the game out of reach. We still have some things to work on as we head into a huge game next week against New Haven."
Merrimack started off receiving the ball, but their first drive was cut short on a fumble by running back Jimon Hill (N. Chicago, Ill) after a nice 15 yard gain. Stonehill took over the ball at their own 43 yard line but they were stopped on fourth down at the Merrimack 27 as quarterback Jesse Hunt was hit hard by Nick DesJardins (Somerville, Mass.) on the pass attempt.
On the ensuing drive James Suozzo (Everett, Mass.) orchestrated a 10 play 73 yard drive that ended with him scoring on a two yard scoring plunge. Suozzo recorded a 23 yard rush down to the Stonehill two yard line to set up his touchdown score. The extra point attempt by Merrimack was blocked to make the score 6-0.
Stonehill took the next kickoff back 45 yards to the Merrimack 34 to set up their first touchdown of the half on a 14 yard Hunt pass to Paul Piccirillo, making the score 7-6 Stonehill.
Early in the second quarter the Merrimack defense stood up and forced a Stonehill punt which was returned by Isaiah Voegeli (Hyannis, Mass.) for a 33 yard gain down to the Stonehill 24 yard line. The offense stalled as they were forced to settle for a 22 yard Nick Zwann (Longmeadow, Mass.) field goal to push the score to 9-7 Merrimack.
After another punt the Merrimack offense was led down the field by Hill who recorded a 19 yard reception down to the Stonehill two yard line setting up another Suozzo touchdown. The ensuing extra point was good pushing the Merrimack lead to 16-7.
With 4:46 remaining in the half Suozzo connected on a 46 yard strike to wide receiver Ethan Weaver (Brooklyn, Conn.) down to the Stonehill 22 yard line setting up a Hill three yard scoring plunge. The Hill score pushed the score to 23-7 at half.
With 11:31 remaining in the third Suozzo took over the game with an 15 play 79 yard drive that ended with a five yard scoring reception by Voegeli. On the drive Suozzo ran the ball six times and threw the ball five times before connecting on the scoring play that made the score 29-7 Merrimack after another failed point after attempt.
On the ensuing Skyhawks drive Tony Johnson (Lynn, Mass.) recovered a fumble on the Merrimack 48 yard line. The very next play coach John Perry called a flea flicker that was run perfectly as Suozzo connected on a 52 yard scoring strike to Voegeli, who was wide open. The score was Voegeli's second of the day and 11th on the season and also put him over the 100 yard plateau for the fifth consecutive game. Zwann connected on the extra point to increase the lead to 36-7.
After another turnover on downs forced by the Merrimack defense Suozzo did not wait long to put some more points on the board as he broke an amazing 35 yard touchdown scamper on the second play of the drive to make it a 43-7 game at the end of the third quarter.
With the game clearly in Merrimack's hands, the Skyhawks put together two touchdown drives to make the score 43-21 in favor of the Warriors. On the ensuing Warriors possession a bad snap caused a safety for Stonehill and the score was pushed to 43-23.
Stonehill put together another strong scoring drive as Hunt completed an 11 yard scoring strike to Jamal Johnson to bring the score to 43-30. The Warriors recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran off the remainder of the clock to solidify the homecoming weekend victory.
Offensively the Warriors were led by James Suozzo who dominated the second half of the game, finishing with 261 passing yards, 122 rushing yards and five total touchdowns for the Warriors. Jimon Hill put together a solid afternoon for the Warriors as he recorded 77 rushing yards and a touchdown and also chipped in with 43 receiving yards. Voegeli continued his dominating ways from the receiver spot with 118 yards and two scores.
On the defensive side of the ball the Warriors were led once again by team captain Shawn Loiseau (Shrewsbury, Mass.) who racked up 11 tackles including two for a loss. Defensive end Nick DesJardins (Somerville, Mass.) had himself an afternoon as he finished with seven total tackles, one sack and three tackles for a loss. Jimmy Holland (Billerica, Mass.) finished off the game with seven tackles including one for a loss.
The Skyhawks were given a solid performance by their starting quarterback Jesse Hunt who finished the game with 287 yards passing and four touchdown passes. Defensively Michael Hogan was all over the field for Stonehill as he finished with a game-high 15 tackles.
Merrimack (5-2, 4-1 NE-10) returns home next weekend for a first-place showdown with New Haven at 1 p.m. at Martone-Mejail Field. The winner of the contest will be in the driver seat for the Northeast-10 conference title.